Windy City Heat
When one of Officer Gina Aletti’s informants goes missing, Gina’s search for him unwittingly exposes secrets within the Chicago Police Department that may cost her job, her newfound love, and even her life.
Chicago Police Department Tactical Officer Gina Aletti employs a maverick style of police work to get the job done–but in the end she always brings down the bad guys. Sparks fly between Gina and her new boss Lieutenant Sean O’Connor over rules, procedure, and ultimately over much more, but her record is beyond reproach. When Gina is arrested for is taking money and providing protection to the very drug dealers she seems so passionate about bringing down, will the truth cost Gina her job, love, and ultimately her life?
The sun began its daily dip over the west side of Chicago, yet the temperature stayed right where it was: too damn hot. It was mid-September and it still felt like mid-July.
At the corner of Sixteenth and Hamlin in front of Westend Food and Liquors, Darius Washington paced, as if he were waiting for a tardy bus. Buses had come and gone, yet he hadn’t bothered getting on any of them. Washington appeared unaffected by the unseasonable heat, except for a betraying line of sweat that ran down his face from beneath his baseball cap. The red Bulls cap was prominently tilted left. Every so often, he’d hunch up one shoulder and swipe at it before it reached his chin.
In the basement of an abandoned building on the opposite corner, Chicago police officer Gina Aletti kept surveillance on Washington through a pair of binoculars. She had noticed sweat on his cheek some time ago.
The sound of tiny clawed feet skittering across the cement floor broke the tense silence.
“What was that?” Ray, Gina’s partner, whispered. “That sounded like a rat to me.”
Another rat, or maybe the same rat, scurried by so close, Gina felt debris near the back of her legs move.
“What the hell!”
Ramon “Ray” Lopez was a seriously muscled former marine, a product of the tough neighborhood they patrolled. While Ray scoured the floor for additional vermin, Gina rolled her aching shoulders. The rats didn’t faze her. The constant inactivity did. She’d been in the same position for the past hour, her elbows dug into the cement ledge of a glass block window, binoculars settled against her eyes as she watched Washington through one busted-out block.
Darius Washington had a rap sheet several pages long and a reputation for running from the police. Over the course of the day, Gina had learned his MO: where his security was positioned, where he’d hidden his stash of dope, and how he handed the ridiculous cash he was making over to his money holder.
“Let’s just do this.” A sheen of sweat covered Ray’s face. His black hair was matted to his head, and his dark eyes were a tad wild. Nothing ever fazed Ray Lopez. He was Gina’s rock of Gibraltar—tough, loyal, and consistent. Until he encountered a rat.
“Just one more and we roll,” she promised. “Drink some water. I think you’re getting heat exhaustion.”
As Ray dutifully glugged from his water bottle, Gina observed the fourth buy. A late model SUV slowed to a stop in front of the drug dealer. Washington bent into the passenger window, his body shielding most of the action. But Gina saw enough—the exchange of drugs for money was so quick, the untrained eye would miss it.
“And there it is.” Gina pulled the binoculars over her head and shoved them into the case slung over her shoulder.
Ray took the hand-held radio from its holder on his belt and waited for an opening to cut into the busy police chatter. “Ten-Sixty-Three-Charlie.”
“Go Charlie,” the dispatcher responded.
“We’re throwing a stop on a subject for suspected distribution,” Ray said. “Sixteenth and Hamlin. He’s got help out here, so if there’s a car nearby, we could use an assist.”
Gina heard the dispatcher put Ray’s request for an assist on the radio, and her stomach fluttered, its regular preamble to making a bust.
They jogged to their gray Crown Vic parked nearby in a litter-crusted lot. Ray unlocked the doors, and once Gina was in, he reversed into the alley.
“Ten-Sixty-Three-Charlie?” The voice of the female dispatcher broke the charged silence in the car.
“Charlie.” Gina said into the radio.
“Ten-Sixty is coming to assist you.”
“Ten-Sixty?” Ray glanced at Gina, his dark brows curved in. “I thought the new lieutenant wasn’t expected till November?”
“Me too. I wonder why he’s here early?”
Their former lieutenant had retired a few months back. Though he had come up through the ranks during an era when women were still youth officers and jail matrons, Bob Wasninski had never treated Gina differently than her male partners. Gina and Ray’s stats were above average, so he’d asked them to come to the tactical team—even though his most senior sergeant, Rusty Miller, was against it, simply because he didn’t want a female on the team.
Rusty seemed to have political connections on the department that reached far and wide. If one of those connections was the new lieutenant, Gina knew she’d be back on the watch pushing a beat car in the blink of an eye. Or if the new lieutenant felt the same as Rusty did about female cops, then the new lieutenant would have the power to make her life miserable—so miserable, she would be tempted to quit the team and go back to the beat voluntarily.
“Whatever,” she concluded her thought process out loud. “I’ll take my uniforms to the cleaners just in case.”
“Take mine too,” Ray laughed. “Extra starch.”
Gina forced a smile. “To hell with the new boss. Let’s go get this drug-dealing, gang-banging miscreant.”
Ray drove across Sixteenth and up to the curb where Washington stood. When Washington saw them, a look of shock and recognition crossed over his face.
Gina lunged from the car before Ray put it into park. She grabbed the back of Washington’s jeans in a tight grip.
He squirmed and pushed at her hand with his. “Damn, Office, why you touchin’ me?”
“It’s Officer, not Office,” Gina said. “Put your hands behind your back.”
With a sudden, hard twist, Washington escaped Gina’s grip and bolted north down Hamlin. Gina took off after him.
“Call it in!” Gina yelled.
She heard a car door slamming and tires squealing. She threw her full speed at Washington, knowing Ray would follow her in the squad car.
Washington flew past his two security people, their mouths dropping open. People on the sidewalk quickly moved out of his way. Washington was fast, but Gina gained on him. Experience told her he’d give it his all for about five blocks and then begin to lose steam. Running from the police was the extent of his daily workout. She lifted weights and ran five miles nearly every day.
Washington darted left into a gangway between two apartment buildings. Using the building for cover, Gina stopped just short of the gangway and bobbed her head forward. In that split second of time, she saw him turn north into the alley. She sprinted after him, her running shoes slapping hard on the cement.
Gina yanked her radio from the holder at her waist and advised the dispatcher and responding units of her change in direction.
The alley ended at Roosevelt Road. One block east at Hamlin was the Abraham Lincoln housing development—known on the street as the Abe El. Washington dealt drugs for the Vice Lords, and they controlled the Abe El. Gina knew he was heading to his home turf, and she trusted Ray would come to the same conclusion. She didn’t relish following Washington into the jets alone. Then again, he was a bad guy; she was the police. End of story.
Washington sprinted across four lanes of Roosevelt as if there were no traffic. Angry horns and squealing tires marked his progress. Gina slowed to gauge the traffic and, when it was clear, ran after him.
Three high rise buildings in a weary tan brick formed a half circle behind a cement courtyard. A ten-foot wrought iron fence enclosed both the yard and the buildings. Washington ran through the open front gate, with Gina several steps behind.
Washington ran across the cracked and uneven cement courtyard, dodging around a pack of playing children, and headed for to a side door in the middle building. Gina prayed it was locked as it should be. No such luck. He wrenched the steel door open and charged in. Seconds later, Gina did the same.
Running from the bright sunlight into the darkened hallway, she was momentarily blinded. Stifling odors greeted her: urine, cigarette smoke, and the rotting garbage scent of crack-cocaine.
Washington struggled to climb the stairs. She was a few steps behind. At the fourth floor, he staggered across the cement landing to the door. Gina lunged, snagging him around the waist and knocking both of them to the floor.
Gina heard the distinct sound of hard metal hitting the cement and skittering across the dark landing. She knew it was a gun.
The butt of her pistol pressed into her rib cage just under her right arm. So it was his.
But where was it? A few feet away? Or scant inches from his hand?
Gina wrenched her right arm out and lifted it high. A hard jab with the heel of her hand to the back of his head would stun him long enough to get him into cuffs. Before he reached his gun.
Suddenly, Gina was airborne, lifted by strong hands and tossed aside as if weightless. She landed hard on the cement floor, and the air in her lungs whooshed out with an oomph. Pain shot through her body. In her peripheral vision, she saw her rescuer lift Washington just as easily and push him face first against the wall.
Rolling onto her hands and knees, Gina searched the floor with her hand for Washington’s gun. It was gone. She scrambled to her feet, squinting in the dim lighting. Her rescuer had Washington in cuffs and the dealer’s fallen gun shoved into the back of his pants—camouflage pants. It wasn’t Ray. This guy was much taller.
“You have the right to remain silent.” His voice was deep. “You have the right to an attorney.”
He walked toward the stairs. With her arrest. As if she wasn’t even there. He continued, “If you can’t afford an attorney, the state will be happy to provide one for you.
Do you understand your rights as I have stated them to you?”
“Hello?” Gina tried to get his attention. He had to be a cop. She didn’t think the National Guard gave Miranda warnings. So what was with the desert camos?
“I’m cool, Office,” Washington said. “I got those rights.”
“Hey,” Gina said from behind them. “I appreciate the help. But just so we’re clear, this is my arrest.”
Footsteps pounding up the stairs interrupted them. “It’s over,” the mystery cop said. “Someone call for a transport. The rest of you can go back down.”
“My partner—” Gina heard Ray’s voice.
“Is right behind me. She’ll meet you outside.”
His authoritative tone stacked points on her list of reasons to dislike him. The urge to shove him down the stairs nearly undid her. Gina gritted her teeth and trudged behind him.
Dwindling daylight seeped into the entryway. A number of cops, some in civilian dress and some in uniform, stood around outside. She watched GI Joe hand Washington over to a uniformed officer for transport.
“Gina.” Her sergeant, Mike Olsen, approached with Ray right behind him. “You good?”
“Of course,” she said.
“Because I followed you in there.” She recognized the deep voice of her camouflaged rescuer. “Why the hell would you chase an armed offender into the Abe El without backup?”
Gina turned to confront him. But her hot temper and acid words died a quick death.
He was a Playgirl centerfold.
Over six feet tall, every inch of him was hard muscle. His jet black hair was shaved in a tight military crew cut. A square jaw led to a sensual mouth, and his lean cheeks were dusted with a five o’clock shadow. Gina looked up and dead into gun-metal gray eyes that were framed in thick, dark lashes. She was mute, genuinely stunned at how good-looking he was.
“Do I need to repeat that in simpler language?” he asked.
His caustic words sliced into Gina’s stupor like ice water. She moved in, nudging the tips of her running shoes against the toes of his tan combat boots.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Gina pushed her pointer into his hard chest. “Stealing my arrest and questioning me?”
A feral smile eased over his dark shadowed jaw. “Lieutenant Sean O’Connor, Tenth district TAC. I believe that makes me your boss.”